The Ancestors by Evita Fromter
Evita has gained new insights and fresh inspiration from this inaugural course on memoir and biography.
I know little about my ancestors, only what my grandparents and parents have told me. Our name ‘Fromter’ has always intrigued me and made me want to know more. It is a relatively uncommon German name, a derivation of ‘Fremder’ meaning foreigner or stranger. This is how I’ve often felt in my life, this sense of being an outsider on the move from place to place and country to country, it seems to have been a theme in our family.
My paternal grandparents moved and were re-moved by historical political events, from the eastern part of Germany, now Poland, further and further west to what is now East Germany and then even further west after my father at twenty escaped the German Democratic Republic into West Berlin where American soldiers registered him as a refugee. This prompted a further family exodus from East Berlin including his parents, who were my grandparents, my uncle and other members of the family, before the wall was built in 1960. If my father hadn’t taken that courageous first step he wouldn’t have met my mother and I wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have emigrated to New Zealand. My children wouldn’t be here either and my parents would have missed out on their two lovely grand-daughters.
My father never returned to his hometown of Goerlitz after it was divided by the Allies in 1945 at a meeting in Potsdam. The Neisse and Oder rivers running through the city became the border between Poland and the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. The loss of my father’s homeland to Poland and the communists may have been the reason he decided to immigrate from Niederreifenberg near Frankfurt to New Zealand when I was twelve.
About a year before he died in 2017, my father told me that his ancestor, a great great great great…grandfather fought in Hennersdorf in Silesia in 1745, in a battle led by the Kaiser Frederick the Great, whose Prussian army defeated a Saxon army led by General Buchner. This ancestor was awarded 11,000 Goldmarks by the Kaiser with which he bought the farm near Gorlitz that became the family home, my father visited when he was a child.
For a large part of my life I have carried this sense, in my psyche, of our family as eternal migrants, although writing this account I realise I feel more settled in New Zealand, where I have lived on and off for forty-five years. I have never visited Gorlitz. Now I’d like to go there to discover the home my father remembered so fondly and to learn more about the distant ancestor.
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